The Checkout line at the grocery store is an excellent example of a situation which reflects both the nagative and positive attitudes or etiquette which are portrayed in different manners by different groups in society. Any bystander can vividly observe the different sides of the situation. Because this subject matter is somewhat varied according to the geographical location and clutural climate of each particular store, this specific description, based on my individual observations, may not be an exanct determinant of the overall etiquette scenario.
In order to partially understand shopper characteristics, one must observe and classify. It is easiest to determine their "expected etiquette" by classifying them according to specific categories. While it is true that there are probably a multitude of approaches to classifying these individuals, I found these five categories to be most significant in that they are the most frequently observed. Shoppers seem to fall into these categories: women with children, single males, single females, senior citizens, and teenagers.
I would have to say that most of the disagreements in the checkout line, whether verbal or nonverbal, occurred between teenagers and the rest of the categories. Many of the teenagers, it seemed, had a supposedly incomprehensive or, more likely, confused attitude about whose turn it was to go through the checkout line when a new line opened. Consequently, when the line opened, the teenager, who previously had at least three people before him in line, would emmediately leap over to the new line ahead of all other shoppers. This obnoxious move by the teenager left many with a hesitation of whether they should step behind the teenager while imparting a gentle reprimand and words of wisdom or step in front of him while lambasting him with multiple words of frustration. When a direct verbal conflict arose, I would say, neither side demonstrated any form of proper etiquette. I hate to sound as if I am building a stereotype of teenagers as rude characters who lack etiquette, but unfortunately this is what I observed.
Those who were most likely to respond with politeness and a mere gentle reprimand were the senior citizen shoppers. While there were a few exceptions, it seemed that most had learned wisdom through the years, and were not exceptionally disturbed by an encounter with bad manners. If they felt a necessity to offer an opinion, it was frequently offered with a bit of biting wit. There is not doubt that the seniors were the group who most clearly demonstrated a living example of proper etiquette.
The category of shopper who was most reactive to a challenge was the category of women with children. These women were seriously motivated to get out of that store. They were frazzled and distracted, and any roadblcok was met with great resistance. These were the ones who would step right in front of that teenager and deliver a tremendously clear expression of their opinion as to his rudeness.
In astonishing contrast to the demonstration of conflict, there were moments when there was an atmosphere of a perfect world with a perfect etiquette. These occurred when a male took on the role of a gentleman, or perhaps he was actually using etiquette in a self-compensating manner. When I factored this possibility into the situation, it completely diffused the atmosphere of a perfect world.
The checkout line is an interesting example of the varying ways we all choose to interpret and act out etiquette. Depending on age and maturity, culture and training, and purpose and motivation, people make choices as to how they will respond to each other. Etiquette can be self-serving and self-compensating, but it really should be a demonstration to all that we are a civilized people with some level of care and respect for those we encounder in public and the family and friends who surround us.